By Liza B. Wilson
While farmers are pacing, watching the weather in hopes that the last of patches of snow will melt so they can get into the fields, local 4-H Club members are getting to know their new calves and baby lambs. But while much of 4-H centers around raising and showing livestock, this is only one component of the nation’s largest youth program designed to shape young people into future leaders and innovators. Well before the first crop of hay is stacked neatly in the barn, 4-Hers engage in hands-on learning activities in the areas of science, citizenship, and healthy living in preparation for the big day—the county fair.
The foundations of 4-H began more than one hundred years ago with the idea of making public school education more connected to rural life, and early programs tied both public and private resources together. During this time, researchers at universities and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) saw that, in general, adults in the farming community did not readily accept new agricultural discoveries and practices, but that youth were willing to experiment with new ideas and then share their experiences. 4-H today offers a myriad of programs beyond agriculture and animal husbandry, including photography, conservation, cooking, public speaking, shooting sports, history, and art. There’s a program to get just about any kid excited, and they definitely don’t have to live on a farm.
A longitudinal study conducted by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University shows that youth engaged in 4-H are nearly two times more likely to get better grades in school and go to college, 41 percent less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and 25 percent more likely to positively contribute to their families and communities.
4-H on both sides of the Tetons is thriving. Administered by the county extension offices of the University of Idaho and University of Wyoming, the program accepts kids from six through eighteen years old. Leaders volunteer and parents offer support. Popular local projects range from robotics to the fashion runway, market beef to marksmanship, and horses to hamsters. If there are a few kids with a particular interest and a willing leader, a club can be organized.
Meetings are held throughout much of the year with activities like learning the cuts of meat, judging clinics, field trips, and family fun night. To complete a club project, members must attend 60 percent of the meetings, generally held once or twice a month. For some clubs, like Dog and Cooking, meetings don’t start until late spring. And those who choose livestock projects commit to much more than meetings—they sign up for a day-in-day-out feed and care routine.
Important deadlines for 4-Hers depend on which project they choose. Breeding animals are kept year-round; the steer ownership deadline is February 1, and all other animals need to be purchased before June 1. Then the work begins in earnest, with weigh-ins, tagging, cleaning stalls, feeding, washing, worming, and walking.
As fair looms closer, the work becomes more intense. There are weigh-ins to assure that the animal is fat but not too fat, health inspections, ultrasounds, shearing, and training the animal to walk and stand for the judges (in order to show off their loins and back fat to the best advantage). Meanwhile, participants involved in arts, crafts, and science are working hard toward finished projects to enter in the judged competitions of their interests. 4-H requires all participants to do an individual presentation to the rest of their club, and a record book must be submitted at the end of the project year. By keeping detailed records, youngsters gain an understanding of costs and profits, documentation, and work ethic. The kids who do Steers, as opposed to something like Scrapbooks, stand to earn more money, but they also invest more time and take more risk. If a steer gets into bad feed or breaks a leg, which they do at times, they can’t be shown or sold at fair and the youngster stands to lose their initial investment—just like what can happen in real life.
Dedicated members who participate through their senior year have the opportunity to apply for college scholarships. Teton County, Wyoming, offers to extend the initial freshman scholarship for four years if students keep up their grades. This can add up to $6,000 in scholarship monies to a recipient. So maybe you can “make a silk purse from a sow’s ear,” after all.
MEET YOUR 4-Hers
Braiden Klingler Negotiating a 1,267-pound steer into the ring at the Teton County, Idaho, fairgrounds didn't intimidate Braiden Klingler (even though he only weighs just over one hundred pounds with his boots on). 2011 was Braiden’s seventh year in 4-H, and his second with a steer (other years he raised pigs). A generous 4-H supporter gave Braiden his first steer to raise and train in 2010. The same neighbor then bought it back at the auction. That gave him his start; from his proceeds he was able to buy his steer for 2011.
Braiden’s steer for 2011 cost $966; his feed cost was $700. The animal sold at $2 a pound, bringing in $2,534—a profit of nearly $900, minus some equipment costs. He also participated in Poultry (right) and saw his turkey through from a hatchling to the slaughter. His costs were $60 and he sold it for $225—a profit of $165. Braiden is saving for college, but does take out enough from his earnings to buy school clothes.
Alexa Daugherty Twelve-year-old Alexa Daugherty lives in Alta, so she goes to the fair in Teton County, Wyoming. For her first year with 4-H she chose to do Pig (left). She bought two of them, one for $260 and the other for $150, and named them Sandman and Blues Boy. It is always good to have an “understudy,” in case the primary animal is disqualified for not making weight (205 pounds minimum at weigh-in), or has to be administered any medication within a few days of fair (rendering the meat inedible). Blues Boy wasn’t lucky enough to go to the fair and became bacon for the family’s table.
Alexa was very diligent about walking, feeding, and training her pigs. Using her pig bat, she taught them stop and back-up cues. Her efforts bore fruit, as she sold Sandman for $1,425. Alexa’s feed and miscellaneous costs totaled about $260, yielding her a tidy profit of over $1,000. Sooooweeeet! Her goal is to have $10,000 saved by the time she goes to college.
Advice for new members • Rather than taking on livestock the first year or two, start with Leathercraft, Cooking, or Scrapbooking. These are simpler projects and won’t be so overwhelming or time-consuming; then, when you get the feel of the program, you can try new projects. • Avoid the temptation to sign up for too many clubs. Keep it fun and successful rather than creating so much to do that is becomes drudgery. • Parents are an integral part of a member’s success; make it a family affair.
Statistics for 2011
Teton County, Idaho Clubs: 30 Members: 219 Leaders: 45 Animals sold: 66 for a total of $76,475 Scholarship Monies Awarded: $1,300 County Fair 2012: July 30–August 4
Contact information: Teton County Idaho Extension Office 235 South 5th East, Driggs 208.354.2961
Teton County, Wyoming Clubs: 22 Members: 261 Leaders: 100 Animals sold: 98 for a total of $240,220 Scholarship Monies Awarded: $77,000 County Fair 2012: July 22–29
Contact information: Teton County Wyoming Extension Office 255 West Deloney, Jackson 307.733.3087 tetonwyo.org
THE BIG DAY for a LIVESTOCK OWNER The morning the 4-Hers prepare to show their animal, there’s a whole lot going on: washing, polishing, clipping, braiding, fluffing, and hair spraying (and that is just on the animals!) The kids likewise have been groomed in their western best and are ready to walk into the show ring. Their faces are locked in concentration as they mentally prepare. They must remember to look attentive to the judge, and be ready to answer any question the judge may ask about feeding rations, weight, breed, and so forth—all while keeping the animal between them and the judge, keeping it “set up,” and, of course, smiling.
The animals are judged in two classes. Market Showmanship is where the 4-Her is judged on how well they show the animal “to its best.” The second class is Market, in which the animal itself is judged on muscle, back fat, and loin size. Each class is ranked with white, red, and blue ribbons, with the Reserve Champion receiving a lavender rosette and Grand Champion the coveted purple rosette. Any animals receiving blue ribbons or above are eligible to compete at the state fair level.
The next event is the auctioning off of the animals, with the auctioneers coaxing and cajoling the buyers. You can always bet the farm these youngsters will get top dollar—sometimes three to four times the market price, which translates into some good money for all the effort put in. As the animals are sold and trucked away to hog heaven, some kids can hardly stand the thought of someone eating their “pet,” but most are more than happy to see their four-legged friends head off to slaughter, and to pocket their check. The profits usually go back into seed money to buy next year’s animals and feed, as well as savings for college.
The faithful buyers who come back year after year provide incentive for these kids to learn values of hard work and responsibility. Often the meat is donated to worthy community causes, such as senior centers, C-Bar-V Ranch School, and the Community Safety Network in Jackson.
There are lots of diversions once the projects are in and the animals taken care of. Alongside the kids’ 4-H project displays in the main hall are jams made from Grandma’s secret recipe, cherry and apple pies with the flakiest of crusts, whole wheat bread of the finest texture, crocheted afghans, and quilts that are exquisite pieces of art. The Teton County, Wyoming, fair offers a plethora of entertainment, including concerts, magicians, clowns, pig wrestling, commercial booths, and, of course, the rodeo. In the down time between events, there is time to hang with friends, play kick the can, and enjoy the carnival rides until they pull the switch and the music stops.
When the temperatures dip to freezing in Teton Valley, Liza B. Wilson and her husband, Lorin, dip south of the border. Liza likes to support the local economy. Lorin has to remind her she doesn't have to be its sole supporter.